Sunday, November 18, 2018

Self-Compassion Mantra

     “Whenever I notice something about myself I don’t like, or whenever something goes wrong in my life, I silently repeat the following phrases: 

This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is a part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I give myself the compassion I need.

     I find these phrases particularly useful, not only because they’re short and easily memorized, but because they invoke all three aspects of self-compassion simultaneously

     The first phrase, ‘This is a moment of suffering,’ is important because it brings mindfulness to the fact that you’re in pain. If you’re upset because you notice you’ve gained a few pounds, or if you get pulled over for a traffic violation, it’s often hard to remember that these are moments of suffering worthy of compassion.
     The second phrase, ‘Suffering is a part of life,’ reminds you that imperfection is part of the shared human experience. You don’t need to fight against the fact that things aren’t exactly as you want them to be, because this is a normal natural state of affairs. More than that, it’s one that every other person on the planet also experiences, and you’re certainly not alone in your predicament.
     The third phrase, ‘May I be kind to myself in this moment,’ helps bring a sense of caring concern to your present experience. Your heart starts to soften when you soothe and comfort yourself for the pain you’re going through.
     The final phrase, ‘May I give myself the compassion I need,’ firmly sets your intention to be self-compassionate and reminds you that you are worthy of receiving compassionate care.”

     After a few weeks of practicing this self-compassion mantra, you may start to get a small taste of freedom from your habitual mind-set. You may become more objectively aware of & less lost in your thought patterns. You may become less self-critical and less negative about your life.
     We can learn to "accept and acknowledge the fact that sometimes, life does suck. But we don't have to make things worse than they already are. The key to self-compassion is not to deny suffering, but to recognize that it's perfectly normal. There isn't anything wrong with the imperfection of life as long as we don't expect it to be other than it is.
     Once we remember to be self-compassionate, we can appreciate the half of the glass that's full as well as noticing the half that's empty."

       Kristin Neff. “Self-Compassion. The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.” HarperCollins Publishers, 2011.

* a valuable, wise, wonderfully well-written book *

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Quality of Attention, Understanding, and Intimacy

     “Love is the quality of attention we pay to things.” J.D. McClatchy

     “In essence, mindfulness – being about attention, awareness, relationality, and caring – is a universal human capacity akin to our capacity for language acquisition. It is a way of being in wise and purposeful relationship with one’s experience, both inwardly and outwardly, with oneself and with others. Thus there is an intrinsic social dimension to its cultivation as well. It usually involves cultivating familiarity and intimacy with aspects of everyday experience that we often take for granted." Jon Kabat Zinn

     During meditation “you are not escaping the world; you are getting ready to fully embrace it.” Christine Skarda

     “Mindfulness is a kind of balanced awareness — we're open to things as they are, with acceptance and nonjudgment. But when it's incomplete we can open to things as they are and not see the bigger picture of the pain in the world. When we understand and open to that pain, our own and others’, the only thing that makes sense is compassion. Compassion means we use our clear seeing in the service of the alleviation of suffering.” Michelle Becker

     "Mindfulness does not reject experience. It lets experience be the teacher. With mindfulness, we can enter the difficulties in our life and find healing and freedom." Jack Kornfield

     "Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough." George Washington Carver

      "Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.” Claude Monet

      “One learns through the heart, not the eyes or the intellect.” Mark Twain

      "You learn about a thing ... by opening yourself wholeheartedly to it. You learn about a thing by loving it." 
Barbara McClintock - Nobel prize-winning geneticist

      "The truth is, what one really needs is not Nobel prizes but love. How do you think one gets to be a Nobel laureate? Wanting love, that's how. Wanting it so bad one works all the time and ends up a Nobel laureate. It's a consolation prize. 

     What matters is love." George Wald - Nobel prize-winning biologist from Harvard

     Intimacy is what practice is all about: the realization of the essential lack of distinction between self and other that inevitably leads to wisdom and compassionate action. Intimacy with the depth of our being – authenticity – is the essential first step. Then, with the help of loving-kindness meditation, we bring intimacy into our relationships with others, starting with those dearest to us and moving on to those who don’t seem dear at all. We can grow in intimacy to include everyone around us, all of society, the whole world and all the beings it contains.

      Modified from the description of Pat Enkyo O’Hara’s book: “Most Intimate: A Zen Approach to Life's Challenges.” Shambhala, 2014.

Intimacy with the Real World

     Many consider "the real world" to be at least a little frightening, hostile. Despite all our technological advancements, a part of us still cowers in a cave for safety, fearing the dark unknown outside. There are valid causes for this: the existential facts of life (constant change, sickness, aging & death); our hard-wired negativity bias; the news & entertainment medias' exploitation of our hard-wired negativity bias; the high incidence of "trauma & attachment injury"; forms of ongoing trauma such as poverty, racism & sexism; current society's minimal interest in emotional intelligence & wisdom, etc.

     Not surprisingly, many live an essentially fear-based, self-centered, transactional or even adversarial relationship with life. A transactional relationship is one in which all parties are in it for themselves, and do things for each other with the expectation of reciprocation. In adversarial relationships, one party wins only when others lose. Isolationism, cut-throat business practices & politics, environmental destruction, racism, colonialism, dictatorships & wars are the result. The primitive "fight, flight or freeze instinct" that energizes this level of being, resides in all of us, at least as a potential.

     Nevertheless at times, most of us, if only briefly, do experience a loving, nurturing relationship with life. Nurturing relationships are exemplified by a wise grandparent's relationship with her grandchild, whom she loves unconditionally, attentively holding her in safety & kindness, providing wholesome nutrition for her body, heart & mind - everything she needs to flourish. Another metaphor is that of a skilled gardener, who lovingly plants the best available seeds, with optimal soil, sunshine, water, fertilizer, careful weeding etc. In nurturing relationships, instead of being afraid, alone & needy, we are being unconditional love & spacious wisdom. This much more highly-evolved state of being, due in part to the "tend & befriend instinct", also resides in all of us, at least as a potential.
     Fear and the closely-related emotions of anxiety, anger, rage, despair, cynicism, depression, apathy etc usually suppress our innate nurturing capacity.
we feel desperately miserable, isolated & utterly worthless, it may be a struggle just to stay alive. Before we're able to embody unconditional generosity towards all, we require if not equanimity, then at least some wise spaciousness in which to hold, accept & eventually process our fearful emotions.
& wise spaciousness are also innate human potentials, and one important way of cultivating these is by way of mindfulness meditation.

     So how can we possibly embody the relatively tender, nurturing side of our nature in the "real world"? There appear to be two general pathways.

     Extreme circumstances can abruptly force us to respond, with either fear (self-preservation), or love (altruism). During natural disasters, not all but many, suddenly become heroically nurturing, altruistic, even at the risk or certain loss of their own life. When interviewed afterwards, altruistic heroes uniformly insist that their actions were done spontaneously, naturally, were nothing out of the ordinary, and that anyone else would have done the same thing - suggesting that altruism is an innate natural human capacity. Similarly, when suddenly learning that they have incurable cancer with a few months to live, roughly 40% of these people radically change their way of being and enjoy the best quality of life they ever had ("post-traumatic growth"). Because of this, they claim that this diagnosis was the best thing that ever happened to them. These folks report that they drop all that's meaningless from their very short remaining lives, and engage wholeheartedly with only people & activities that are deeply meaningful for them.
     Why anyone would do extreme sports like rock-climbing is incomprehensible for the majority, who tend to be safety-conscious. Climbing a 400ft rock face, without safety equipment, demands perfect continuous focused awareness of "just this, right here, right now" for the entire ascent (hours). Such prolonged, unshakable quality of awareness ("being in the zone") is, I've read, so pleasant to experience, that climbers eagerly risk their lives repeatedly for it.

     Whereas altruism, post-traumatic growth & extreme sports all occur suddenly, under extreme circumstances, mindfulness meditation training takes place intentionally, stress-free, very slowly, gradually, in absolute safety. While the facilitator holds participants in unconditional love, compassion, empathy, gentleness, patience & perseverance, participants are guided & trained to hold themselves in these very same wholesome attitudes of mind. In doing so, they observe, accept & very gradually release all the fears that separate them from their authenticity, who they truly are: unconditional love & spacious wisdom. See also:
     Like altruism, post-traumatic growth & extreme sports, mindfulness meditation can take us well beyond our usual fear-based relationship with life, to one of complete engagement, deep connection - intimacy with all of life - with its 10,000 joys & 10,000 sorrows.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Spacious Sky Holds Passing Clouds Lightly

     "Security is mostly a superstition, it does not exist in nature,
nor do the children of men (and women) as a whole experience it.
Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all!" Helen Keller

     "Something very beautiful happens to people when their world has fallen apart: a humility, a nobility, a higher intelligence emerges at just the point when our knees hit the floor." Marianne Williamson

      “Compulsive concern with ‘I, me, and mine’ isn’t the same as loving ourselves … Loving ourselves points us to capacities of resilience, compassion, and understanding within that are simply part of being human.” Sharon Salzberg

     "Sometimes you have to let go of the picture of what you thought it would be like and learn to find joy in the story you are actually living." Rachel Marie Martin

     "You need nothing more than the experience you are having right now. It is enough. It is plenty. It is perfect just as it is. It was designed for you, given to you for your experience. All you have to do, and all you have ever had to do is accept this gift. Take it and let it in. Let yourself experience the present moment just as it is. It doesn't get any better than this. This is the simple truth the ego refuses to accept, and it will suffer as long as that is the case." Gina Lake  

     "Mindfulness does not reject experience. It lets experience be the teacher. With mindfulness, we can enter the difficulties in our life and find healing and freedom."
                                                                                                                                            Jack Kornfield  

     "You are the sky. Everything else — it’s just the weather." Pema Chödrön

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Authenticity is the Key

Andrea Miller asks a very practical question:
     "It is very painful when someone we love has serious difficulties, such as mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, or addiction. Sometimes it feels like their problems are so big that we can’t really help them and so we may want to retreat from them and their problems. At other times, we try to help, and then get consumed by the other person’s struggles. What can we do to help in these difficult situations without getting overwhelmed?"

     From my current understanding, Thich Nhat Hanh's answer is that we need first & foremost to remember who we are, and when we embody the depth of our shared authenticity, we return to our original undivided wholeness & profound interconnectedness, healing all discretionary suffering.

Thich Nhat Hanh answers:
     "When you feel overwhelmed, you’re trying too hard. That kind of energy does not help the other person and it does not help you. You should not be too eager to help right away. There are two things: to be and to do. Don’t think too much about to do—to be is first. To be peace. To be joy. To be happiness. And then to do joy, to do happiness—on the basis of being. So first you have to focus on the practice of being. Being fresh. Being peaceful. Being attentive. Being generous. Being compassionate. This is the basic practice. It’s like if the other person is sitting at the foot of a tree. The tree does not do anything, but the tree is fresh and alive. When you are like that tree, sending out waves of freshness, you help to calm down the suffering in the other person.
     Your presence should be pleasant, it should be calm, and you should be there for him or her. That is a lot already. When children like to come and sit close to you, it’s not because you have a lot of cookies to give, but because sitting close to you is nice, it’s refreshing. So sit next to the person who is suffering and try your best to be your best—pleasant, attentive, fresh."
       Andrea Miller. "Thich Nhat Hanh: Be Beautiful, Be Yourself." Lion's Roar, June 3, 2016.

     “The evolutionary imperative of our times demands we evolve from seeing the world ‘out there,’ separate and alien from us, to directly knowing our intimacy with all things. This is the shift from a dualistic consciousness to an awake awareness that recognizes nothing is apart from anything else, or from our deeper nature. If we harm someone, we harm ourselves. If we destroy and pollute, we do likewise to ourselves. If we drop bombs on other countries, we rip our a piece of our own soul. And unlike in any other time in human history, if we only look out for ‘our own’ at the expense of everyone else, we will further precipitate the catastrophe of our collective demise.”
       Kittisaro & Thanissara. "Listening to the Heart. A Contemplative Journey to Engaged Buddhism." North Atlantic Books, 2014.

Pando, a clone of 46,000 aspen with a common root system, in Utah’s Fishlake National Forest

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Fear - Love Continuum

     After four or five years of continuous hard training, while awarding the black belt to deserving karate students, a wise karate teacher may tell them that now they're ready to learn karate. What does this mean? Eagerly focusing on the goal of the mythical black belt at least partially obscures important deeper engagement with the martial art itself. Only after the extrinsic reason for training is put to rest, can training purely for the love of the art really begin.
     When obsessed with a goal, we're filled with enthusiastic energy. Energy is necessary to get things done. But when single-pointed zeal takes over, quieter, gentler, more refined qualities like perspective, maturity & depth are often pushed to the side. When obsessed with getting or avoiding, we forget who we are - our authenticity, then everything goes wrong.

     The more we crave a goal, the more we're coming from a place of not having enough, not being enough. "If ONLY I had X, THEN I'd be happy" - is part of the "fight, flight, freeze instinct," at the fear end of the fear-love continuum, where we feel alone, drowning in stress hormones (adrenalin & cortisone). It's very difficult to think clearly and make good judgements in this state. Action arising from this sense of being an animal trapped in a hostile environment is survival based self-centeredness, with no regard for others, the environment or even one's own long-term happiness. A frighteningly large proportion of the population, even in wealthy countries, is stuck in this hellish realm, often for life.
     When we very simply, directly engage with whatever or whomever we're with in this present moment, we are being authentic. This overlaps with the "tend & befriend instinct" at the love end of the fear-love continuum, where we feel our deep connection with everyone & everything, and feel pleasant, partly due to the hormone oxytocin. Authenticity transcends words & concepts, and can only be experienced: profound peace, stillness, silence, ease, awareness. Action from authenticity arises spontaneously as it feels appropriate, nurturing, decreasing suffering and increasing flourishing for all, including oneself.

     Mindfulness practice is a gentle way of gradually releasing conditioned survival strategies (that today are almost always inappropriate & self-defeating), and learning to reconnect with and stabilize in our own, deepest authenticity. Mindfulness practice is a way of getting back to reality & quality of life.

     “Remember we don’t meditate to get anything, but to get rid of things. We do it, not with desire, but with letting go. If you want anything, you won’t find it.” Ajahn Chah 

      "... even one moment of true silence can have a profound impact. When you are truly silent, there are no obstacles between you and the truth." Miguel Chen

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Thinking and Beyond

     “Cognitive fusion (the opposite of defusion) is essentially a process by which people become dominated in their experience by the content of their thoughts, lose contact with experience outside of the content of their thoughts, and are restrained to feel and do only what their thoughts say. This is sometimes referred to as being lost or entangled in thoughts or stuck in one’s own mind.
     Cognitive defusion then is the loosening of this entanglement. It is the ability to make contact with direct sensory experiences, or like the ability to have a thought without being dominated by the literal meaning of the thought.”
        Lance M. McCracken, Estelle Barker, Joseph Chilcot. “Decentering, rumination, cognitive defusion, and psychological flexibility in people with chronic pain.” J Behav Med 2014; 37:1215–1225.

     “Try and try as we may, we can’t contain the infinity and eternity of who we actually are in some neat little package of our thinking mind, no matter how sophisticated our thinking may be.”
     Reginald A. Ray. "The Awakening Body. Somatic Meditation for Discovering Our Deepest Life." Shambhala, 2016.

     “True intelligence is to rise above thinking as a source of all intelligence.” Eckhart Tolle

     “The transformative power of a conscious, mindful thought is that it reveals its own transiency. For example, the thought ‘Who is thinking?’ is an invitation to make contact with the present moment. In doing so, the thinking process is recognized for what it is. When we’re not so enchanted by our thoughts, we notice something else, something quite simple. We notice that all thoughts manifest and dissolve back into silent listening. This is a great relief. WE don’t have to become shaped by our thinking. We can be liberated from its bondage. In seeing thought as ‘just thought,’ the sky of the heart is revealed, with no footprints. ‘You won’t find the sage out there.’ When there is wisdom, the endless searching for happiness ‘somewhere else’ vanishes. Where is there to go? Beautiful thoughts and ugly thoughts, all arise & cease in awareness, and yet awareness remains unmoved.”
       Kittisaro & Thanissara. "Listening to the Heart. A Contemplative Journey to Engaged Buddhism." North Atlantic Books, 2014.

     “Rather than being your thoughts & emotions, be the awareness behind them.” Eckhart Tolle

     “When you run after your thoughts, you are like a dog chasing a stick - every time a stick is thrown, you run after it. But if instead you look at where your thoughts are coming from, you will see that each thought arises and dissolves within the space of that awareness, without giving rise to other thoughts. Be like a lion, who rather than chasing after the stick, turns to face the thrower. One only throws a stick at a lion once.” Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

      Psychological analysis of our thoughts is not a part of the practice of meditation. The sole purpose of meditation is to see more clearly what is, at each moment, now in the present - without thinking discursively about it. "Analysis deals with concepts. Meditation aims at stilling the mind & watching what is, dispassionately. No thoughts — no ‘me,' no ‘me’ — no neurosis." 
       Bhikkhu Mangalol. “The Practice of Recollection.” Lion’s Roar, July 15, 2016
     “Be aware of your breathing. Notice how this takes attention away from your thinking and creates space.” Eckhart Tolle

     “Presence – there are other words for it such as ‘awareness’ – is a state of consciousness that transcends thinking.” Eckhart Tolle

     Presence is the atmosphere for attending to our own & another's pain and vulnerability, while engaging our own and their inner resiliency and wholeness.
      Palmer PJ, Zajonc A. “The heart of higher education: A call to renewal. Transforming the academy through collegial conversation.” Jossey-Bass, 2010.

      Presence is the manifestation of our innate wisdom, which has the capacity to “hold in meditative equipoise” all of our own & others’ noise / friction / psychological baggage. The terms noise & friction suggest that in general, our psychological baggage is no longer helpful, and now distorts accurate perception and interferes with appropriate response, effectiveness, efficiency, quality of life & most importantly, our ability to dwell in our deepest authenticity.

Just This, Right Here, Right Now